Airline Industry: Let’s Get Phygital

Nowadays delivering value and ensuring customer engagement in the airlines industry is more important than ever. The market has become highly competitive, and both traditional and low-cost carriers need to differentiate themselves through customer experiences. One of the ways this result could be achieved is by effectively building relationships with a use of customer engagement arenas.

Physical Arena

For many years customer engagement arenas have been divided into digital physical (Bhalla, 2014). When it comes to physical spaces in the airline industry, it is most often referred to the in-plane or airport experience. Customer engagement in such spaces would occur through service, and tangible items that shape the experience a customer would have while flying. Many attributes, some of which are seats, meals, baggage and airline attendants, contribute to how clients perceive the flight and its value, and consequently, shape their image of a brand. The inflight product and customer service infrastructure at the airport are examples of the physical product that airlines not only provide, but can also control.

Era Of Digitalisation

The era of digitalisation has changed the way airlines engage with their customer. The buying process, physical products and face-to-face interactions started to shift since the rise of online booking systems and meta-search engines. The era of digital arenas in the airline industry truly began in 1964, when American Airlines introduced the first computer reservation system (Hanke, 2016). Since then technology has influenced the use of websites, social media and mobile apps, and encouraged brands to engage with their customers in digital arenas. This has been a very successful development in the customer relationship management field, and has allowed airline companies to use real-life data to communicate offers and flight information to their customers, and use digital platforms to drive customer engagement.

New Solution: Phygital

However, physical and digital arenas have witnessed a large lag between them, leading to mostly web-focused customer engagement. Although being connected has become an inevitable part of every traveller’s journey, physical products are re-gaining their value (Wiedmann & Labenz, 2016). As a result, a new customer engagement concept, known as phygital, has been introduced. The goal of this strategy is to blend online and offline worlds by leveraging benefits of digital arena into a physical space to give multisensory experiences to customers. Stimulating environments allow travellers to immerse themselves in the spirit of the brand, and become aware of values and products offered (Heywood, 2016).

Phygital: Case Of KLM

An example of a company that has incorporated traditional and innovative solutions into their business is KLM. In 2014 the Dutch airline launched a ‘Live High Five’ campaign, which invited customers on two opposite sides of the world, in Amsterdam and New York, to give a perfect high five. Participants’ efforts were judged the computer for timing and precision, and the perfect high fives were awarded with two flight tickets to Amsterdam/New York. By using interactive HD video and audio installations at physical locations in USA and The Netherlands, KLM easily and effectively connected total strangers in real-time. Experiences such as this one have contributed to KLM brand identity, created unforgettable memories for the participants, engaged large numbers of international customers, and have gone viral, thus promoting the brand and product (KLM, 2014). The full immersion, obtained by emerging digital and physical arenas, significantly changed customer engagement, making it easier for KLM to interact with clients; the airline managed to bring the world closer together and improve its customer relationships.

To conclude, in the era of digitalisation business can differentiate their customer experienced by combining the online and offline worlds. Interactive and innovative campaigns that merge both digital and physical arenas play a major role in convincing the customer to spend time and money on the specific airline, as well as increase brand loyalty and knowledge.


Bhalla, G. (2014). Collaboration and Co-creation: New Platforms for Marketing and Innovation. New York: Springer New York.

Hanke, M. (2016). Airline E-Commerce: Log On. Take Off. New York: Routledge.

Heywood, L. (2016). Retail Week Connect: When digital and physical collide. London: Retail Week Connect.

KLM. (2014, 09 08). The Perfect High-Five – Not as easy as it looks. Retrieved 10 09, 2016, from KLM:

Wiedmann, K., & Labenz, F. (2016, 01 20). Soothe Your Senses: A Multisensory Approach to Customer Experience Management and Value Creation in Luxury Tourism. Retrieved 10 09, 2016, from European Business Review:


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